School Superintendency as Civil Service

What’s behind Gov. Christie’s surprise announcement that he is capping school superintendent salaries? Isn't this sort of un-Republican? What happened to the free market economy? Is it a sort of shooting-fish-in-a-barrel move, a free ride fueled by public animosity towards school taxes or the occasional exorbitant salary? Is it a set-up for capping teacher salaries or installing statewide contracts? Is Christie trying to get some love from Jersey City, where citizens are fighting back against a mishandled $268,000 annual superintendent contract? Is the heat getting to him?

A few facts to throw out there: first, superintendent salaries are a tiny piece of school costs. From New Jersey School Boards Association’s press release yesterday:
The department’s National Center for Education Statistics indicates that New Jersey directs 9.5 percent of public school expenditures toward central-office and school-level administration, as compared to a nationwide average of 10.8 percent. According to this report, New Jersey administrative spending is lower than that of 42 other states. At the same time, New Jersey’s spending on instruction and student support services (71.9% of total expenditures) is higher than the nationwide average.
Secondly, one reason for high salaries, to whatever degree they’re high, is because school superintendents don’t get tenure. (A blog called Dr. Petrosino's Education Project argues that the DOE should reinstate tenure to balance out newly-cropped salaries.) Thirdly, the cap of $175,000, except for the 16 districts with more than 10,000 students, will encourage some unknown number of superintendents to go to Pennsylvania or New York or Delaware, which remain capless. Not so good for maintaining quality. See what happens, Gov. Christie, when you go all non-Republican on us? (Read Bruce Baker’s post at SchoolFinance101, specifically his chart of NY superintendent salaries which are almost all above $175K, at least in southern NY., though his larger point that the cap is arbitrary is rebutted by John Mooney at NJ Spotlight in the comment section of today’s column, also well-worth reading.)

Of course the cap will also wreak havoc with administrators – supervisors, principals, directors -- further down the food chain, some of whom get more than $175,000. (The slick comparison to Christie’s salary, also $175K, by the way, is a canard: not too many superintendents we know are contemplating higher office or big book deals in a couple of years. Superintendency is typically the last stop.)

In effect, Christie’s plan takes school superintendents out of the marketplace and places them on a pay grade on the civil service scale. Next to come is business administrators and assistant superintendents, according to Comm. Schundler. Are teacher salaries the endgame?

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